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Acoustic Guitar Review: Tanglewood TW1000 Heritage Sundance

So today I had a Tanglewood TW1000 acoustic guitar here in the recording studio so I thought I'd do a little review. Apparently it's from their "Heritage Sundance" collection, which is one of the very top models in their range. At around a thousand pounds it's the kind of thing we might expect a good singer/songwriter on a modest budget to consider.

Right out of the case it felt like a quality acoustic guitar. The promo material that we had read made much of the fact it was solid wood and said it felt like a guitar 2-3000 more expensive. So how did it fair in a real world recording situation?

The first thing we noticed was how solid it felt. That's not to say it felt particularly heavy but it did have that 'wrought out of stone' feel to it. The manufacturer says it has a "Solid Engelmann Spruce top, Solid Rosewood back and sides and Ebony fingerboard and bridge". Well to us, it felt a bit like when you close the door on a new Audi. Just, well... solid. 'Nuff said.

An initial few strums revealed that it wasn't what we expected. It felt strangely 'tight'. Maybe a bit 'woofy' in the low end. The mid-range seemed to be a little lacking. The highs seemed very bright indeed. We felt slightly let down. We passed it around between the four of us in the studio.

But as we played an amazing thing happened. It somehow seemed to 'settle down'. The woofiness seemed to fade. The highs seemed to relax. Everyone started to comment how the more they played it the more they liked it. After a couple of hours of passing it around and playing different styles of music, we all agreed that it seemed to sound different already. But, just to make sure that our ears hadn't just become accustomed to it, we decided we would stick a mic or two in front of it to see how it sounded.

We wanted to hear how it sounded both picked and strummed so, being a recording studio, we put up two of the staple microphones around here for those jobs: An AKG D19c for strummed guitar and a Gefell M930 for picked. As ever we used our ears and moved around the guitar as it was played listening for the 'sweet spots'. For the strummed guitar/AKG D19c that ended up pointing around the 12th fret, approximately 10 inches away from the fretboard. For the picked sound we placed the Gefell M930 over the players right shoulder and pointing roughly at the players hand. After placing them roughly in these positions we put on a pair of decent isolation headphones (as it happens the Studiospares M1000 which we previously reviewed here: http://www.circlestudios.co.uk/blog/studiospares-headphone-review

Then, listening with one microphone in each side of the headphones, we tweaked to ensure we had achieved the fullest possible sound (and of course phase coherence between the mics). Heading back to the control room I found my assistant, Joe, and Rob Allen of our in house composer team, Etch Music, with their mouths open.

While tweaking the microphones I'd noticed that their still remained a little of the 'woofiness' that we had detected at the outset so I adjusted for that. Moving the mics carefully I had found the spot which achieved the best balance between the sound having body while avoiding the 'woof'. I'd used the other mic to bring up the sparkle that the top end of the guitar had displayed from the outset.

This guitar seemed to enjoy being strummed most of all. We found that the body had a beautiful resonance which gave it a natural big bottom end. Since it had by now 'settled down' a bit the highs didn't seem as bright. Instead we felt they now sparkled rather nicely. This was particularly noticeable when it was finger-picked.

If there was one let down for us overall, I felt that the mid-range wasn't quite as present as it could be. To be fair, my favourite acoustic guitar for recording has been the Martin 000-28 at approximately three times the price of this baby. Indeed I've been looking for an Eric Clapton signature model for a sensible price for a significant period of time (closer to five times the price of the Tanglewood on test here) as it is one of the most evenly balanced and sweet acoustic guitars I have ever come across. However, until I find one for a more sensible price than they can be picked up for in the UK at the moment, I'll be hanging on to the Tanglewood TW1000. And if anyone can suggest what strings I might change to in order to find a little more mid-range in this well priced acoustic guitar, I'd love to hear from you.

EDIT: Day 2. I played this for another hour today. The highs have continued to 'bed in' and sound pretty balanced at this point. The mids still sound a little scooped somehow. I guess it could be that they are just being completely overshadowed by the power of the E & A strings?!? Again, if anyone has any string suggestions, comments below would be very much appreciated!

FURTHER EDIT: a month on and I can honestly say I'm blown away. Of course I'd heard people say that guitars need to be 'played in' but the difference in the space of a short month is quite unbelievable. I've tried to play it every day, even if it's only for a few minutes. During the course of the month the initial unevenness I heard has mellowed very considerably. Apart from a little low end grunt (which to be fair you've really got to expect with a dreadnought size body) the guitar is now pretty balanced across the piece. It's midrange seems to have come forward significantly. The high end is very sweet indeed. All in all, I'm not sure that I've played a better midrange guitar. This Tanglewood now hangs pretty comfortably with the Gibson, Martin, Taylor and L'Arrivee guitars of this world.

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